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Hidden & Dangerous 2 Review

GAME INFO
publisher: Gathering
developer: Illusion Softworks
genre: Action Strategy

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PIII 1000, 128MB RAM, 2.4GB HDD, 32MB video card
ESRB rating: M
homepage:
www.hidden-and-dangerous.com/

release date: Oct 21, 03
» All About Hidden & Dangerous 2 on ActionTrip


World War II was a grueling affair. It seems that people somehow find extremely brutal conflicts captivating. The more brutal the conflict, the more exploited it gets in the entertainment industry. Video games are no exception apparently, as we have another WWII action game on our hands. (Ed. - No more, I beg you.) The Czech development team Illusion Softworks, known for their work on Mafia, has taken a rest from modeling goons in pin-striped suits. Instead, they have returned to one of the games that put their company on the map, Hidden and Dangerous. After a few years of waiting, fans of the original are finally being treated to a full-blown sequel. Hidden and Dangerous 2 comes with all the customary great cut-scene direction from Illusion Softworks, and is powered by the LS3D engine, the same technology that brought to life Illusion's excellent vehicular shooter Mafia.

Once again, players are put in the role of fearless SAS (Special Air Service) soldiers. Their work behind the scenes helped foil many of the finest plans concocted by the Axis Powers. For example, you will infiltrate into a top-secret German sausage factory where you will steal the secret recipe for the tasty Frankfurter sausage, Hitler's favorite wiener in the world. (Ed. - And as we all know, Hitler LOVED wiener.) It was said that Hitler got so infuriated after this daring theft that he shot himself in the foot after it (actual quote) "laughed at him with its crooked hairy toes." OK, so you won't really steal sausage recipes, but you'll still make Hitler plenty mad. Our strapping young lads will travel to places like North Africa, Burma, Norway, and Austria, along with any other place where their help is needed. Along the way you'll get to exchange bullets with Italian troops (yes, they fought with the Germans for a while), Japanese and, of course, the Nazis. At the outset players will choose from a number of available soldiers, all with specific skills and training. The soldiers' skills grow after each successfully performed mission. Players form a team of no more than four individuals whose skills should ideally be complimentary in battle. Hidden and Dangerous 2 accents pure action, but it also throws in a heavy doze of stealth. You'll need lads that can pick locks, heal other soldiers, and, of course, move without being detected. Then again, there will be times when the boys with heavy machine guns (like the BAR) might come in real handy. Make note also that snipers with the MK1 Sniper Rifle are a godsend in this game. There is nothing like scoping the area from a mile away and then picking off them dastardly Nazis one by one. Watch them run around in circles "like little goyls" as you blast away from your trusted sniper rifle.

The team at Illusion Softworks has done an excellent job on making the gameplay highly versatile. The mission objectives keep changing, and the settings are visually distinctive enough to make you feel like you're part of a global adventure, fighting the Axis forces all across the world. In one mission you'll stage an assault on a heavily fortified airport in North Africa. You'll mount a flak cannon and tear German tanks to shreds, or alternatively, get into a tank yourself and blow every poor Italian soldier that creeps out of his trench to bits. Another mission will take you deep into the jungles of Burma where you'll fight for every inch of the ground as you try to figure out the location of the enemy bunker through the dense foliage.

The mission goals and settings constantly keep changing. You'll even get to plant underwater magnetic mines on ship hauls in the icy cold waters of Norway. One of the great advantages of this game using the LS3D code is that players get to drive plenty of vehicles. Anything from trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns, to jeeps and German Panzer tanks. The maps are rather large and never entirely linear, and the same can be said about the gameplay. In most cases you'll be able to take several routes to your objectives, and there is always the option to take a more sneakier approach instead of going in all guns blazing. All of these elements, combined with some excellently directed cut-scenes that feature just the right amount of drama and expressive voice acting, ensure that we're immersed into the game world and that we never lose interest. One other great addition to the game is the tactical map. The tactical screen allows you to stage some coordinated attacks by switching to a turn-based mode of play. You'll be able to zoom out, inspect the battlefield and order each of your squad members whether they should attack, retreat, advance or just sit there and lay covering fire as you do your thing. One such attack will be crucial to acquiring certain important papers during the Austrian campaign. What I liked about this feature the most was the ability to set traps. I'd use two of my SAS guys to keep the enemy soldiers busy while I sneak up from behind and catch them with their pants down sort to speak. Hidden and Dangerous 2 offers a multitude of options for true action fans, and Illusion Softworks obviously has a knack for creating mission scenarios that draw you in deeper into the game world and keep you longing for more.

So with all this in mind, the game still had a major problem. You knew this was coming right? The problem is that this game is ridden with all sorts of bugs and AI problems that it is inadequate to fulfill the ambitious concepts set before it by the developers. Where should I begin? For one, the LS3D is definitely showing its age. Although the game looks decent, it's far from par using today's standards. Just look at Max Payne 2 if you need any reference points. Everything looks the same as in Mafia, more or less. The problem is Mafia came out a while ago. For all intents and purposes this is still very much a DirectX 8.0 game. No fancy use of pixel shaders and no Havok physics. Granted, the physics engine in H&D2 is far from bad, so don't take this the wrong way (you can get hit by ricocheting bullets and shoot through thin materials like wood and canvas). I'm just saying the 3D code doesn't stand out in any way, especially if we consider that LS3D uses some very ugly 2D sprites to depict the dense jungle foliage. Still, the visuals are always a matter of personal affinities. The lousy camera work in confined areas isn't however. It seems that the Mafia engine has no problems handling outdoor settings, but it's hardly effective when it comes to claustrophobic interiors. My characters would often get stuck on door frames and there were numerous other collision detection problems. Furthermore, in certain levels (like the one taking place on the Antarctic) entire cabin walls would disappear and it would appear as if I was floating on icy water instead of walking around in a wooden cabin.

As I had mentioned, the AI isn't exactly top-notch either. Generally, it's good enough not to infuriate you completely, and at times it will show flashes of brilliance (enemy soldiers flanking you and looking for best possible cover). But, there were many other times when I would lose my patience with it. My teammates would have some major difficulties navigating through cramped areas - their path finding in narrow spaces isn't exactly brilliant. Naturally, this means I had to baby sit them a couple of times. Sometimes, my heavy gunners carrying BAR machine guns just wouldn't return fire even when they were being shot at from ten feet away (and even though I've set their attack mode to "fire at will"). Conversely, enemy soldiers would sometimes be oblivious to the fact that I'm standing very near to them. On the other hand, they'd often spot me crawling in the shadows from about three hundred feet away. In games like Splinter Cell you could gauge certain AI patterns and adapt accordingly. Using stealth in H&D2 is a bit trickier as you never know when you might stumble on one of those super Nazi's. (Ed. - It's a bird, it's a bomber, it's fascist! It's Supernazi! Faster than a speeding Panzer, more powerful than a canister of Zyklon B!) The list of weird bugs doesn't stop there I'm afraid. My teammates would at times shoot like mad at ghost soldiers. (Ed. - Those wacky Nazis, recruiting ghosts to fight for them, what will they think of next.) They would keep shooting at a spot where an enemy soldier once stood. Other bugs include weird sound anomalies, not being able to kill a soldier even though you've pumped several rounds into him, etc. (Ed. - Actual reaction: Die, you kraut son of a bitch!) (To all our German readers, we apologize for the editing, those responsible have been sacked. - 2Lions)

Besides the many bugs, I've had some minor problems with certain confusing gameplay notions. In order to acquire a Nazi uniform you have to capture one of the soldiers alive. You can't simply take his uniform after you've shot him. (Ed. - Leaving a naked Nazi dude running around the area.) (You gotta gag him first... kinky! - 2Lions)

Furthermore, I have found some of the interface solutions to be rather clunky. You need to stop whatever you're doing in the middle of the action and shuffle items around in your inventory, transferring stuff from your backpack to your pockets. I wish also I was able to just shout "heal me" and the nearest teammate would patch me up, instead of having to target him during combat, bring up the context menu and then select "heal me." Generally speaking, the interface could've been made simpler, more intuitive and streamlined.

In closing it is still very important for me to stress out that, even despite the aforementioned bugs and drawbacks, I had plenty of fun with this game. NONE of the bugs or downsides were frustrating enough to seriously diminish the gameplay experience. That is a very important fact to note. The single-player mode offers plenty of hours of gameplay, and then there is always the multiplayer option. I just wish Illusion Softworks didn't release H&D2 so prematurely. If I recall correctly the same thing happened to the original, it was hailed as a great but flawed game. Unfortunately, this definition also applies to the sequel. Overall though, I would still recommend this game to our readers. It is my belief that H&D2 does more things right than wrong, and that is why I have enjoyed it. Hopefully some of the AI and other mishaps will be eradicated after a few patching jobs, and then this game will truly shine.

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7.2   Good


HIGHS
Fun, diverse and addictive gameplay; cut-scenes, voice acting, musical soundtrack;

LOWS
Bug ridden, AI issues, at times clunky interface, relatively dated visuals.

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